Growing tumors exist in metabolically compromised environments that require activation of multiple pathways to scavenge nutrients to support accelerated rates of growth. The folliculin (FLCN) tumor suppressor complex (FLCN, FNIP1, FNIP2) is implicated in the regulation of energy homeostasis via 2 metabolic master kinases: AMPK and mTORC1. Loss-of-function mutations of the FLCN tumor suppressor complex have only been reported in renal tumors in patients with the rare Birt-Hogg-Dube syndrome. Here, we revealed that FLCN, FNIP1, and FNIP2 are downregulated in many human cancers, including poor-prognosis invasive basal-like breast carcinomas where AMPK and TFE3 targets are activated compared with the luminal, less aggressive subtypes. FLCN loss in luminal breast cancer promoted tumor growth through TFE3 activation and subsequent induction of several pathways, including autophagy, lysosomal biogenesis, aerobic glycolysis, and angiogenesis. Strikingly, induction of aerobic glycolysis and angiogenesis in FLCN-deficient cells was dictated by the activation of the PGC-1α/HIF-1α pathway, which we showed to be TFE3 dependent, directly linking TFE3 to Warburg metabolic reprogramming and angiogenesis. Conversely, FLCN overexpression in invasive basal-like breast cancer models attenuated TFE3 nuclear localization, TFE3-dependent transcriptional activity, and tumor growth. These findings support a general role of a deregulated FLCN/TFE3 tumor suppressor pathway in human cancers.


Leeanna El-Houjeiri, Marco Biondini, Mathieu Paquette, Helen Kuasne, Alain Pacis, Morag Park, Peter M. Siegel, Arnim Pause


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